Monday, June 28, 2010

38. Joseph of the West

This is Chapter 38 from the revised online version of The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality.

Poets, thinkers and leaders of the West appear from an Eastern point of view in the gallery called the Western Images – John Locke, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Hegel, Karl Marx, Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Leo Tolstoy, Petofi, Henri Bergson, Albert Einstein, Kaiser Wilhelm, Vladimir Lenin and many more.

Past and present merge, and so do East and West. Western philosophers hold conversations with ancient Persians like the anarchist Mazdak and the stonecutter Farhad. Rumi debunks the philosophy of Hegel and the manipulative positivism of the French philosopher August Comte is shred to pieces by the plain common sense of an unschooled worker. In yet another corner, the poets Robert Browning and Lord Byron from England are exchanging autobiographical reflections with Mirza Ghalib of India and Rumi. Perhaps the most remarkable is a meeting between Goethe and Rumi in a corner of Paradise.
Jalal and Goethe
The playwright and the director come to a compromise at presenting something that is entertaining as well as thoughtful: Faust, a tragedy in two parts. It opens in Heaven where the Devil, as Mephistopheles, lays wager with God that the pious Doctor Faust shall end up in hell.
Faust agrees to give his soul to Mephistopheles in exchange for a moment so fair that Faust should wish it to last.
This is difficult because Faust is insatiable. He ends up seducing his beloved Margaret a.k.a. Gretchen and ruining her life (although her soul is also saved by Divine Grace). He summons the spirit of Helen of Troy, provides advice to monarchs and goes on to launch voyages of discovery which unfortunately turn into colonialism – “then commerce, war and piracy are three in one and cannot be parted.”
Undeterred, Faust plans to reconstruct the world as a veritable paradise that shall have no traces of violence that is one of the undesirable remnants of the ancient world. Mephistopheles gets his chance of claiming the soul of Faust when the hero, while visualizing the perfect world of his own creation in the future, declares that such will be the moment to which he might say, “Abide, you are so fair!”
Mephistopheles still loses the wager because Faust only declared his intention of wanting a moment to last but such a moment did not arrive actually.
Rumi offers feedback to Goethe on his masterpiece. “Your thought has made its home in the inner recesses of the heart and created this old world anew," says Rumi to the German poet-thinker. "He who is blessed and is a confidant, knows that cunning comes from the Devil and love from the human being.”

Is it because of Joseph of the West that such a world has become possible where East should meet West in this manner?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Conspiracy theory against Pakistan's national anthem

Recently a conspiracy theory was floated from the Indian side with reference to the poet-scholar Jagan Nath Azad who died in 2004. Chandra Azad, reportedly the dead poet’s son, claimed that the poet mentioned to him that he was summoned by Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah just before independence and asked to write the national anthem of Pakistan, which got written and adopted, and kept being played from Radio Pakistan until the death of Jinnah, after which it was dropped because the author was non-Muslim.

The exponents did not produce any evidence but the theory still got presented as established fact in Humsafar, the glossy magazine of Pakistan International Airlines! (Yeah, great people to fly with). Soon it was all over the place, of course including the Wikipedia entry on Pakistan’s national anthem (modified since then) and also on some allegedly Pakistani blogs by alleged Pakistanis).

I was among those who were approached by friends and students for expert opinion. I could only say that it was mere gossip until some evidence was presented, and I was not comfortable discussing hearsay.

Dr. Safdar Mahmood has now done thorough investigation on the matter, for which the nation owes him gratitude. Painstakingly, he has gone through records of Jinnah’s visitors, lists of radio broadcasts and newspapers of the era as well as biographical material about the poet himself. He found no evidence that the poet ever met Jinnah, and some evidence to show that he definitely didn’t meet Jinnah in the initial days of the country’s existence. No national anthem was ever mentioned in any newspaper or contemporary record prior to the adoption of the present one at a much later date. His valuable article is available online (in Urdu).

May we expect that Pakistani writers who inadvertently became used in this dirty conspiracy against the nation’s self-image will now correct their error? They can also make some compensation by mentioning that Pakistan is proud of its national anthem, written by Hafeez Jallundhri, a poet loved by the masses, and the hymn which he wrote in honor of Lord Krishna used to be sung in the temples of Varanasi (Benaras) in the late 1920s, before the pundits decided that poetry written by a non-Hindu could not be given that place.

Next time someone from the other side comes up with such stuff, should we whisper the magic phrase: “Calcutta Congress, December 1911"? (In the Calcutta session of December 1911, Indian National Congress sung a hymn to King George V, describing him as “the ruler of the minds of all people, dispenser of India’s destiny”, and this is the Indian national anthem adopted on January 24, 1950, embarrassing many Indian writers such as the one who posted on the official website of Hamilton Institute, New York).

Sunday, June 20, 2010

37. The Mind of Europe

This is Chapter 36 from the revised online version of The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality.
Western Images is a picture galley on the other side of the Remaining Wine. It displays images of the West as they flashed upon the Poet’s inward eye. The first is called ‘Message’. It consists of nine stanzas of five couplets each.
Stanza 1
The Poet asks the morning breeze to take his message to the intellectuals of the West: “You have accumulated knowledge at the cost of the heart.”
Stanza 2
Philosophy wanders through the desert and mountains without catching a single prey. It roams around in the garden but gets no flowers. “Now let’s take our needs to the doorstep of Love,” the Poet invites his Western counterparts. “Let’s bow down to Love and seek expansion.”
Stanza 3
Reason turns dust into gold and then throws some of the dust into the eyes of Jesus. Constantly tying and untying knots on the heart, it sows ambers and reaps flames.
Stanza 4
The vulgar intellect becomes captive to its own thoughts but a penetrating intellect sees through the nine skies and combines the longing of Adam with the light of the angels.
Stanza 5
Humanity leaps forward from the isolation of Love and turns dark clay into mirror. It was a flame that broke into ambers and each amber acquired taste, longing and vision.
Stanza 6
Love has now turned to the ways of lust, plunging its sword into the breasts of friends and giving the name of empire to plain robbery. It is high time that a new tradition should be introduced and the heart should be washed clean.
Stanza 7
Monarchy is coming to an end and the age of conquerors is over. Joseph of the West comes out of the prison and sits on the throne after the accusations against him by Potiphar’s Wife are proven false. Old secrets are no longer restricted to the elite. Life is creating a new world and those who care to see can see this.
Stanza 8
The Poet sees that which is yet to come: a revolution too big for the universe’s mind. Blessed are those who see the rider in the dust and the essence of the song in the trembling of the strings.
Stanza 9
Life is a running stream and is about to flow faster. What has been but should not have been will not be anymore. What should have been but has not been will be.
The Poet puts out the candle by way of announcing the advent of dawn after a very dark night.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

36. Hafez of Shiraz

This is Chapter 36 from the revised online version of The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality.

British, French, Italian and Greek forces enter Constantinople. The Caliph, who is supposed to be the emblem of Muslim unity, hands over his power to the conquerors. Thus ends the Ottoman rule that had triggered the European Renaissance by sacking Constantinople almost five hundred years ago now comes to end. Having painted the Middle East red with the treachery of the Arab chieftains, the Allied armies now begin genocide of Turks in their own homeland. “Charmed by the pen, the human being seems to have put down the sword,” says the Poet. “Having built an idol-temple of world peace this slave of lust danced around it to the music of the pipes but when war tore off the veil, he stood exposed as blood-thirsty and quarrelsome.”

Mustafa Kemal Pasha, a veteran of the World War, appears from among the masses in Turkey and defeats the invaders. After regaining Constantinople, he refuses to give it back to the king. He gives it to the people. Declaring that the days of imperialism are finally over, he relinquishes all claims of his nation on lands that do not belong to it. He is the new type of leader in whom Life itself is struggling restless to solve its own problems.
Beyond this realm of ideas lies a tavern for restoring some madness to your method. The sign board on the entrance reads ‘Remaining Wine’ – a suitable name for such a place.

The Remaining Wine

The nomadic conqueror from Central Asia, Tamerlane, is flashing like lightning across empires, razing cities to rubble and erecting towers of severed skulls. Sitting beside clear blue ponds amid lush green meadows, the Persian poet Hafez of Shiraz is putting the sweet unconscious spirituality of the nightingale in words like cut jewels. His poetry is like narcotics that may sooth the nerves after prolonged periods of sustained activity and whether it further weakened the Persian will against the invasion of Tamerlane at that time is now beside the point. With the emergence of Mustafa Kemal Pasha more than five hundred year later, the worst days of the East are now left behind and there cannot be much harm in having a little taste of the powerful drug prepared by Hafez.
“Spring has spread out a banquet up to the Garden,” you hear a familiar voice as you enter the tavern. The ghazals served here are distinctly crossed with the brew of Hafez, whose effect on Goethe was to leave him shaken but not stirred. “Do not imagine that our clay was fashioned when the world was made,” you hear after you have taken a few drinks. “We are still a thought in Being’s mind!”

Music is heard, and then a voice: “O singer! Sing verses from the holy guide Rumi so that my soul may be immersed in the fire of Tabriz!” “Our goal is God,” the saying of Rumi comes like a flame.

“Your Beauty shines through the glass like the color of reflection,” the Poet offers a toast to the Almighty. “Just like wine, You too have veiled Yourself with a goblet’s wall!” It starts getting even heavier as he declares, “A true lover does not differentiate between the Kabah and the idol house. One is the Beloved’s privacy and the other His public appearance.” This is no altruism – not the result of a willing suspension of belief but the reward of a penetrating vision: “Learn how to put a rosary bead on the thread of the Brahmin, and if your eyes see double then learn how not to see.”

Then a tankard comes with an unusual label: ‘Addressed to a Sufi’. It goes on to say:

Do not talk any more about Joseph we have lost: the warmth of a Zulaykha’s heart neither you have nor I.
Zulaykha attempted to seduce Joseph and accused him falsely upon getting exposed. Secretly she still kept bragging about her passion in the company of her female friends. The Poet is identifying himself and other Sufis with this woman: the imprisoned Joseph would later interpret a significant dream for the Pharaoh but would refuse to come out until the women were asked to speak the truth. Then Zulaykha would confess even at a great risk to her life.

The Poet and the Sufis will have to stand witness and run some risk when their Joseph comes out. The timing is not right: “the warmth of a Zulaykha’s heart neither you have nor I.”

35. The Spirit of Muslim Culture

This is Chapter 35 from the revised online version of The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality

Some images in the Hall of Reflections are labeled with the names of Western poets especially Goethe. They are reflections on their works and one of them shows you why Goethe has been chosen as the guide for your induction into the present stage of your journey. The German poet turns out to be an admirer of Prophet Muhammad.

Near a signpost saying ‘The Stream’, you witness the journey of a beautiful stream. The Poet is standing nearby to inform you, “‘The Stream’ is a free rendering of Goethe’s celebrated poem ‘Muhammad’s Song’ (‘Mohamet’s Gesang’), which was composed long before West-Eastern Divan. The German poet has exquisitely brought forth the Islamic concept of life. In fact, it formed part of the planned drama on Islam which he could not complete. The translation is meant only to show Goethe’s point of view.”

‘The Stream’ has four stanzas and it is not impossible for you to discern parallels between these and the first four aspects of Time as depicted in ‘The Song of Time’. The fifth aspect of Time, i.e. Time as reward, did not require to be depicted separately since it is the overall picture that emerges from the poem.

Stanza 1
The stream is sound asleep in the cradle of the clouds until it opens its eye in the lap of the mountains. Linked with itself, unlinked with all, it merrily flows through the meadow, its graceful motion striking music from the pebbles. It is headed towards the boundless ocean.
Stanza 2
Spring has fashioned a fairyland along the track of the stream. Roses attempt to tempt it while the rose-bud laughs coquettishly but unmindful of these green-robed beauties the stream cleaves the desert and rends the breast of hills and valleys in its onward march towards the boundless ocean.
Stanza 3
Stricken with drought, a hundred feeble brooks from woods, meadows, valleys and gardens and villas cry for help. The stream, having evaded all charms of the earth-rooted flowers, opens its breast to the winds of the East and the West. It clasps its weak and wailing fellow-travelers. With a hundred thousand matchless pearls it flows on towards the boundless ocean.
Stanza 4
The stream is now a surging river surpassing dam dykes, narrow gorges of valleys, hills and glen. Made one like a torrent passionate, fierce, sharp, restless and heart-inflaming, it arrives each time at the new and goes beyond the old. Linked with itself, unlinked with all, it merrily flows towards the boundless ocean.
So Goethe was the pioneer of poetry praising Prophet Muhammad in modern Europe. This was the kind of man who could provide a reliable and lasting bridge between East and West but the spirit of his message, unfortunately, is now being ignored even in the West.